Indian company staff “held hostage” in Ethiopia over unpaid wages on road projects

Five employees of a financially distressed Indian company say they are being held against their will by locals in Ethiopia who have not been paid for construction work for five months.

The group, including engineers, was detained on 25 November after Indian company Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) failed to pay wages at three road construction sites in Oromia and Amhara states.

Initially, seven IL&FS staff were detained, but captors released two men who were in poor health following an intervention by the Indian embassy in Addis Ababa, say reports on 2 December.

They have been pleading for help on social media, saying they have been taken hostage.

"Situations are beyond our control, please #help before mishappening, IL&FS misguiding everyone", tweeted IL&FS employee Neeraj Raghumanshi on 30 November.

An official from India’s Ministry of External Affairs told Bloomberg that it was looking into the matter. IL&FS did not respond to the news agency’s request for comment.

According to Bloomberg, the IL&FS’ Indian staff have written to the Indian and Spanish ambassadors and the government of Ethiopia to explain the situation.

The Spanish ambassador was contacted because the road projects are being built as a Indian-Spanish joint venture called IL&FS Transportation Networks. The Spanish companies involved are Elsamex and Ecoasfalt.

Staff said: "Concerns of project termination and absence of senior management from project camps might have triggered panic in local employees and led them to believe confining expat employees might force the organization to pay their salaries."

They added they were caught in the middle of "corporate disagreements, blame games and bureaucratic issues", and that local officials and police in Oromia and Amhara were siding with the Ethiopian employees, who are said to number around 600.

IL&FS’ failure to pay wages follows its default on repayments of $12.9bn debt, which caused the Indian stock market to crash on 21 September. The company said it has been trying to send money to pay the back-wages since 16 November, but its default meant that it was prevented from transferring money from India to Africa.

Indian and Ethiopian government officials are due to meet this week to try to resolve the crisis.

  • Updated 5 December to include reports of two men having been released

Image: A newly built highway in Ethiopia near Lake Afdera (©A. Savin/Wikimedia Commons)

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